Posted By: DreamingCode Admin

OCE Furniture Factory AIC James West poses with the Sea Unicorn James West, AIC worker in the OSP Furniture Factory, proudly displays the Sea Unicorn

The idea began nearly thirty years ago from an image in National Geographic. After seeing a cutaway of a British Man-of-War, James West took an interest that would never leave him.

“I really liked the looks of the timbers and beams and how it showed the captain's quarters and crew quarters as well as the ship's cargo and gun decks."

From that day on, he always had a desire to build a warship model with the intricacy to show the interior, but did not possess the skillset to make his vision a reality. His only significant woodworking project prior to coming to prison was building a shed with his dad as an early teenager. His journey within the walls of the Oregon State Penitentiary (OSP) would open new doors, though.

For the last four years, James has been working in the OSP Furniture Factory. In that time he has learned to use the tools of the trade, having gained experience through building the furniture Oregon Corrections Enterprises (OCE) manufactures. He has become quite skilled at using saws, sanders, and the various hand tools needed to complete creative projects like this one. Along the way, he has also gained the confidence to learn more complex machinery. His previous training and the supportive environment in the Furniture Factory helped him to learn to use the lathe to fabricate intricate parts. With each new skill and idea, James increased the complexity of the Sea Unicorn, a name driven by the figurehead he and a friend in the shop created together.

“I do take pride in knowing that my labor of love will be seen and enjoyed as much as I enjoyed building it. I think it would be cool to have it displayed somewhere the public could see her."

Crafted entirely out of fall off pieces of scrap wood and laminate, the Sea Unicorn started taking shape two years ago. Made mostly from cedar and walnut, James and his co-workers put in hours of thought and labor during the slower production times and breaks in the day. Created completely in his head, he resisted the push to make it a pirate ship, but did put many touches on it to give it a rustic, seaworthy, battle-worn appearance.

Carefully crafted furniture for the Captain's quarters
The Sea Unicorn was intended to be a much smaller ship, but in order to accommodate the intricacy of the barrels, cannons, and working doors, the scale grew and the detail increased. James credits his friend and co-worker Byron Kropf for his great help in building the ship and in the design process as well. Their collaboration lead to details like the claw foot desk. He also expressed his thanks to OCE for providing the opportunity for him to learn these skills.

Each year in OCE shops, projects like the Sea Unicorn are created to assist in efforts to motivate learning and generate funds to continue programs or support events like the Governor's Food Drive. James knows that at almost five feet in length, the Sea Unicorn may not fit on someone's mantel, but hopes people will enjoy viewing it, and perhaps it can raise money for Oregon's food banks, a service he has appreciated having access to in the past himself. James is already looking forward to the next project!

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